Take a tour of the awe-inspiring Myanmar
When it comes to making the most of your trip when travelling to Myanmar, you should definitely consider visiting the ten tremendous places listed below.
In the heart of Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city, is one of the most famous pagodas (Buddhist tiered tower) in the world and the main attraction of the region. It is the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in Myanmar and referred to as ‘The crown of Burma’. It is thought that the pagoda is 2 600 years old, also making it the oldest in the world. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the city, the temple is a place of peace and tranquillity.
The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa (a dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine) containing over 7 000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires, which is offset by a massive emerald positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun. It sits on top of a hill 99m high and can be seen far and wide, especially at night as the golden roof and white marble exterior are illuminated.
Inle Lake is a shallow, fresh-water lake in the middle of Myanmar. It is 22km long and densely inhabited by many different tribes; some 70 000 people live in four cities bordering the lake and, in some cases, on the lake itself.
A typical day-trip on the lake, taken in a long, narrow boat with a noisy outboard motor, will include visits to small workshops in stilt villages, several pagodas and probably a market. Enjoy the unusual sights of local fishermen propelling their boats using a distinctive leg-rowing technique, and local inhabitants tending to their floating gardens.
The best time of the year to visit is during September and October. The ceremonial Hpaung Daw U Festival, which lasts for almost three weeks, is closely followed by the Thadingyut festival of lights. Inthas and Shan turn out in their best clothes in great numbers to celebrate the Buddhist Lent. Traditional boat racing, with dozens of leg-rowers in Shan dress in a team on each boat, is a famous event during the Hpaung Daw U Festival.
3. Mrauk U Ruins
Mrauk U is an important archaeological town and was originally thought to be a fortress because of its thick walls. However, it is now thought that these types of walls were built to protect stone temples from fierce winds, rather than invaders.
The medieval town was once an important Arakan capital and a significant trading city. Getting to this remote location involves a four- to seven-hour boat ride up a tributary of the Kaladan River. Bring rain gear as the region gets almost 1.2 meters of rain annually.
4. Taung Kalat
Built atop an extinct volcano plug, this Buddhist monastery is one of the most breath-taking sites in Myanmar. To reach the monastery, visitors must climb 777 steps to the summit. Along the way are a multitude of Macaque monkeys expecting treats. From the top of Taung Kalat, one can enjoy a panoramic view over the ancient city of Bagan and admire the massive solitary conical peak of Mount Popa, the volcano that actually caused the creation of the volcanic plug.
5. Golden Rock
Kyaiktiyo Zedi, as it is known locally, will take your breath away. The pagoda is covered in gold leaf and sits atop a huge boulder 1 100m above sea level, giving the impression it is about to fall off the edge of the cliff. The locals believe the boulder is held in place through a miracle of Buddha and also contains a strand of Buddha’s hair.
Golden Rock is about a five-hour drive from Yangon, and involves a long walk. A staircase leads to the pagoda complex that houses several viewing platforms and Buddha shrines.
Travelers with a passion for Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas love Bagan as it contains the highest concentration of these wonders than anywhere else in the world. The region was home to around 13 000 Buddhist temples in the 11th century, and was described as the ‘gilded city’ by Marco Polo.
The First Burmese Empire from the 9th to the 13th centuries is the main attraction of this region, along with the famous Ananda temple with its sparkling gold spires.
7. Shwemawdaw Paya
Affectionately named the ‘Great Golden God’, this Buddhist tiered tower can be seen for miles around as the glittering gold that covers it and the diamond-studded top shimmer in the light. It stands almost 114m high and is the tallest pagoda in Myanmar. Located in Bago, this 1 000 year old complex contains several relics belonging to Buddha, is highly ornate with an impressive collection of statues and pavilions to admire. The smaller pagodas surrounding it are also covered in gold.
The stupa has collapsed and been rebuilt many times over the last 600 years; each time it has grown a little taller and has had more treasures added to it. A good time to visit is during Bago’s annual pagoda festival, held in March/April.
8. Ayeyarwady River
The country’s longest river is also known as the Irawaddy. It begins high in the Himalayas and carves Myanmar in half as it makes its way to the Andaman Sea. It is deep and wide enough in some parts for large ships and boats to navigate it and is popular for river cruises.
Boat cruises run between Mandalay and Bagan; both cities offer plenty of temples, pagodas and statues of Buddha. While cruising down this majestic river through jungles and deep gorges, you’ll see villagers living on the shoreline going about their daily lives and may even see a beakless dolphin.
Between November and March, this premier resort town is a hive of activity; hugely popular for its white sand beaches and crystal-clear blue waters of the Bay of Bengal. Visitors soak up the sun and pristine beauty of the beaches by day, and enjoy the quaint local restaurants and nightlife when the sun goes down. The rest of the year it is a sleepy little beach town, where local fishermen get on with their daily lives and transport is still by ox-cart.
Ngapali Beach is your chance to take time out from the serious cultural attractions of your trip but still remain immersed in the culture of Myanmar. Reviews are mixed where people either love it or find it totally over-priced and too busy in the tourist season.
10. Pindaya Caves
The caves at Pindaya are an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and quite an unusual sight for tourists. Buddha images fill up every nook and corner of the three caves that are set in a limestone hill in Central Myanmar, not far from Inle Lake. Literally thousands of images in every style and size imaginable, dating back to centuries old, sit squashed in-between the stalagmites and stalactites of the cave.
Buddhist followers have been making their pilgrimage to the caves for several centuries, leaving behind statues and Buddhist images that often bear their name. Last count there were 9 000 Buddhist images found in the caves but this number continues to grow.
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